It’s nearly the end of the year and no doubt most people are evaluating what they did this year and what they would like to change next year. “New year resolutions” will be in full force in a couple of days. Unfortunately, they are also likely to be in full force FOR a couple of days before they fizzle away in the realities of life and most people simply get back to their comfort zone.
This applies to fitness and health resolutions too. I was chatting with a fellow gym goer around April this year and she complemented me on being consistent in going to the gym. She pointed out that the gym is normally very full in January and starts to dwindle in numbers by March or so. So, after the first quarter you only see the really committed people.
She also pointed out that most of the people that fall through, by her observations, are those whose employers pay for their gym membership. Those who pay for themselves tend to be more committed.
I agree with her on those two points. These are well known phenomena in gyms all over the world. Many people want change but few are willing to put in the time and effort required for that change.
They will go to the gym with zeal the first couple of days and sometimes even over exercise and push themselves for longer than necessary at each workout. Then they fizzle away. Normally, such people want quick results. When they realise it will not be that quick to shed off ten or thirty years pf weight gain, or to put on that extra five kilos of muscle, they are discouraged.
In the past year I committed myself to fitness and healthy living. Towards my fortieth birthday I noticed I was getting a pot belly and also needed to pack on more muscle and look more bulked up generally. It has been an exciting and life-changing journey.
Here is what I learnt that can help you if you are planning on making some changes t your fitness and health
1. Be Clear About Your Goals
Your goals will not only inspire you but if you are clear about them they will help you in choosing the correct exercise programme and diet. Weight loss programmes differ from bulking up programmes and cardio programmes, for example. Your goals will also determine how often you need to get to gym on a weekly basis and so on. The faster the progress you want to make the more often you need to work out.
My first programme, “Lean Body with Lee Labrada” was twelve weeks long and required me to go to gym six days a week. It was great for losing fat, gaining some muscle and toning up. The tight schedule gave little time for slack and getting back into a comfort zone.
After that I went on to “Shortcut to size with Jim Stoppani” which was a four day a week programme focusing on building strength and muscle with less focus on fat loss. The four day schedule was surprisingly harder to stick to than a six day schedule because it gave too much opportunity to put it off for another day. So now I prefer programmes that are five or six days a week as they are easier to schedule.
So, you see that as you progress your goals may change too. Just be very clear on what you want at all times so you can stay focused.
2. Be Consistent
Consistency is a huge problem for many that fail to meet their fitness and health goals. They will hit the gym hard for a day or two and not show up for weeks or even months. Then they will go hard again. In the end no results to show for “months” of inconsistent effort and they give up.
The blame will usually go to the exercise programme, so they switch the programme and start another. That does not work so they start another one. Gym hopping is another hobby of such people. One gym after another, not making progress at any.
The problem is simply consistency. You need to commit to a routine and programme and stick with it. If it’s five days a week, ensure you do five days a week without excuse. If you choose a twelve-week programme see it through to the end. You may miss a week or two now and then but overall get it done.
Be consistent in your exercise but also in your diet. That above all else is what will make the real difference. That is why they say fitness is a lifestyle. It is about changing the way you live and your habits, not just about doing a little here and a little there.
As I have been on this journey a lot has changed about my lifestyle. I do not take sodas, I do not overeat, I stay well hydrated. I avoid anything with added sugar be it yoghurt or fruit juice and so on. I buy healthier food like brown rice and brown spaghetti, I avoid too much sun exposure…lifestyle changes.
If you do not make fitness and health a lifestyle choice and integrate it fully into your routine and way of living it is unlikely to stick with you in the long run and your results will be less dramatic.
3. Check Your Diet
I have seen people that work very hard at the gym and sabotage their progress by not eating right. Gym and eating go hand in hand. If one side of this equation is not right progress will be slow or none at all.
Most people tend to over-eat or simply not eat right in terms of getting the protein, carbs, veg mix right. Too much carbs are often the killer, especially in African culture where our diets are rich in carbs and less in protein.
On the other hand, if you are looking to bulk up with muscle you actually need to eat more than usual to have the extra energy and nutrients needed to do this.
For weight loss the goal is to have a diet deficient in calories so that you use more energy than you take in. For building muscle, the goals are to have a calorie excess or eat more than you would normally so your muscles have fuel and nutrients to grow. Again, your goal is paramount to determining your diet too. Learn to eat the right proportions and the right frequency for your fitness goals.
4. Be Patient and Committed
Do not expect overnight change. You did not become big overnight. You did not become small overnight. Any change takes time and is a gradual process. You must be committed to the journey and to reaching your goal no matter how long it takes. If you are consistent, the progress along the way to your ultimate goal will be equally exciting and encouraging.
5. Monitor Your Progress
Checking your progress is very important as it can motivate you and show you where you need to improve. At a bare minimum, taking pictures is one good way to do this. Take pictures from different angles and in different poses on day zero and periodically after that, say in two-week intervals which are likely to show progress. Subtle changes often show in photos that you may not notice otherwise.
Checking your weight is a second way thought this has to be done with caution. If your goals are simply general weight loss then this can work. But if your goal is fat loss and putting on some muscle the scale may not be the best way to measure progress. With such programmes as you lose fat you are also putting on more muscle, so your weight may not change much or may even increase. That is why comparing with photos will help you assess progress better when coupled with weight measurements.
In my first twelve-week programme, for example, my weight did not change much at all, but my proportions changed as I put on muscle and lost fat, so I looked better. In fact, many seasoned fitness enthusiasts will tell you that weight is only half the story. Many people actually put on weight when they are bodybuilding but look better and their body has better proportions. The key is to put on muscle weight and not fat weight.
Be mindful of things that can affect your weight on a day to day basis such as water intake and water retention. Water retention is particularly common if you are taking supplements creatine. Generally, you may weight more before bed at night than in the morning when you wake up. So, check your weight at the same times.
6. Be Accountable to Someone
Share your fitness goals with someone who can push you and monitor your progress. Everyone needs some encouragement and the fear of disappointing others can be a strong motivator.
During my first programme I made it a point to post my work out on my social media daily. I would post “day 20 of 84”, “day 70 of 84” and so on. That way my friends and family knew where I was and would often check on me and encourage me. The thought of disappointing them all was a big motivator and kept me going, coupled with my own determination to make a change. That was my accountability measure. You need not be as dramatic, just ensure someone knows what you are up to and can keep track of you.
So, there you go. My gems from my first year of taking on the fitness lifestyle. I am sure there is more exciting things ahead in the coming year and if you are embarking on such a journey I wish you all the best. Whatever you do, do not let this be another year when you make new year resolutions and review at the end of the year and find you have made zero progress. Commit to the journey no matter what.